Pacific trade pact chances 'significantly' better than 50-50: Obama

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 11, 2014 1:28 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Chances that U.S. negotiators can bring home a strong trade deal with Asia-Pacific countries are now much better than 50-50, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday.

Obama said he was also confident the administration could make a "strong case" in Congress for a Trans-Pacific Partnership deal covering nearly 40 percent of the world economy.

"I'm much more optimistic about us being able to close out an agreement with our TPP partners than I was last year," he said at a meeting of the President's Export Council.

"It doesn't mean it's a done deal, but I think the odds of us being able to get a strong agreement are significantly higher than 50-50."

A senior Chilean official said last week the talks should be finalized in the first quarter of 2015. Any agreement would need to be ratified by the U.S. Congress.

Countries had hoped to wind the deal up last year, but the United States and Japan have been in a stalemate over market access for U.S. farm exports.

Obama said the administration would work with Congress to approve fast-track authority, which limits lawmakers to a yes-or-no vote on trade deals in exchange for setting negotiating objectives. He did not give details on timing.

Some lawmakers in Obama's own Democratic party oppose fast-track, worried about the impact of trade on jobs. Also, some conservative Republicans oppose fast-track, saying it delegates too much power to the White House.

But many trade experts expect Republican victories in mid-term elections will give trade bills an easier ride through Congress from next year.

"The dynamics really don't change in terms of the number of votes in the House and the Senate that are there to be gotten for a good trade deal but we have to make the case and I think we can make a very strong case," Obama said.

One focus of criticism has been proposals allowing companies to take cross-border legal action against governments, for example over laws aimed at limiting smoking.

Obama said U.S. companies should comply with local public health and safety rules but those should not be discriminatory or used as a "ruse" to keep investors out.

"Those are issues that I think can be negotiated," he said.

(Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by David Gregorio)